An explanation about how character rituals shapes characterisation, followed by a short writing activity.
Written by Amanda.
When you think about a story character, do you ever think about their rituals or routines? Rituals can tell us a lot about a character. A ritual is something that involves a fixed routine or sequence of behaviours. Think about your own rituals and routines. Some of you will be flexible to changes in your routines, or some of you, like me, will be very rigid in your routines, and may find it hard to cope when those routines are disturbed. Some rituals are temporary and others are permanent or long standing.
In Samantha Clark’s creative non-fiction memoir The Clearing, she describes her temporary routine while fulfilling an artist’s residency away from home. In the excerpt below, we discover that Clark’s routine is essential for her to work creatively. Adopting this routine, contributes towards self-discipline that is required in her solitary work.
‘I am content to fall in with the season’s introspective ways, quiet and solitary, regular in my habits, submitting to the steady discipline that creative work requires. With few distractions, I adopt an almost monastic routine. In the mornings I set my alarm so I can get up in time to walk down past the harbour in the pre-dawn dark and watch the sun rise out of the sea’ (Clark 2020).
In Gayle Honeyman’s fiction novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, the protagonist, Eleanor, describes her long-standing ritual.
‘On Fridays, I don’t get the bus straight after work but instead I go to the Tesco Metro around the corner from the office and buy a margherita pizza, some Chianti and two big bottles of Glen’s vodka. When I get home, I eat the pizza and drink the wine. I have some vodka afterwards. I don’t need much on a Friday, just a few big swigs. I usually wake up on the sofa around 3 a.m., and I stumble off to bed. I drink the rest of the vodka over the weekend, spread it throughout the two days, so that I’m neither drunk or sober. Monday takes a long time to come around’ (Honeyman 2017).
The excerpt tells the reader that Eleanor needs routine in her life. Even without having anything to do at the weekend, she still carries out a routine of sorts. She is lonely, and in order to combat this lonliness, she anithetises herself with alcohol, making her numb enough to get through the weekend.
Think about the rituals in your own life. Choose one to write about for 5-10 minutes. Keep your writing simple, but write lots of detail about your ritual. Most readers will relate to your ritual in some way, even if they aren’t familiar with it. Is your routine temporary, long-standing or permanent. How do you feel when your ritual is disturbed or changed?
If you are feeling confident, make up a ritual for a new or existing character. Before writing, have a think about why the character is carrying out their ritual. Is the ritual temporary, long-standing or permanent? How does the character feel about changes to their ritual?
Let me know how you get on in the comments section below.
More blog posts about characterisation here.
Clark, S. (2020) The Clearing. London: Little Brown
Geraghty, M. (2020) The Five-Minute Writer: Exercise and inspiration in creative writing in five minutes a day. Oxford: How To Books Ltd
Honeyman, G. (2017) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. London: HarperCollins Publishers